How a council stuff-up could mean a rates refund for thousands
THOUSANDS of Queensland ratepayers could be entitled to a refund after a landmark court ruling found one council failed to properly issue its annual rates and charges.
Legal experts warn the decision could leave other Queensland councils exposed to refunds if they did not pass an annual resolution to levy rates and charges.
Brisbane Supreme Court Justice David Jackson found Fraser Coast Regional Council had issued three years' worth of invalid rates because, since 2014-15, it failed to pass a separate resolution to levy its rates and charges during its annual budget meetings.
Property law expert Tim O'Dwyer said the decision revealed an "appalling" lack of good governance from council.
"Every other council in Queensland should be getting pretty serious legal advice as quickly as possible," Mr O'Dwyer said.
"If it looks like they didn't pass a resolution, they need to look at what they can do - whether they can pass a by-law to rectify it. Or if they can't, start approaching the State Government very quickly."
The Courier-Mail confirmed Gold Coast, Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Moreton Bay, Townsville and Cairns councils all pass separate resolutions during annual budget meetings.
But the decision has left 71 other local governments in Queensland scrambling to check whether they have complied with the ruling.
If more councils were exposed, Mr O'Dwyer said he would guarantee that the State Government would step in to change the law retrospectively.
The landmark ruling occurred after Linville Holdings was taken to court by council over unpaid rates.
The rural services company successfully argued its rates bills were invalid because council failed to pass the separate resolution each year.
Lawyer David Hinton, who ran the winning case, told The Courier-Mail the decision arguably affected "every ratepayer" in the Fraser Coast region.
"I'd suspect that if people think they may have a chance of getting out of paying some rates, they'll probably jump at the opportunity," Mr Hinton said.
"It's not necessarily an issue that's restricted just to this council region. It could obviously apply to other councils as well."
The decision has the potential to leave councils exposed to a multimillion-dollar rates refund of money that has already been spent, unless there is a retrospective law change or successful court appeal.
Fraser Coast Regional Council CEO Ken Diehm said council was seeking legal advice about appealing the decision.
"Until a final determination on this matter is made, the community is encouraged to continue to make payment on rates and charges levied by council to avoid penalties that may apply," Mr Diehm said.
Costs are yet to be decided.
A Local Government Association of Queensland spokesman said the organisation believed there were no implications for other councils from the decision.
"But we will be investigating it further," the spokesman said.